Night’s fallen, and army’s camp sprawls over a great distance, despite the tents packed close. Men mutter before camp fires, roasting days-old meat, boiling thin gruel, sharing mugs containing the small wine and ale rations. The desert air is cool, a respite from the heat of the day, but most men sleep instead of enjoying it—they are exhausted with this endless marching, and now they are in the midst of the Dornish desert with an army somewhere beyond the horizon and the promise of water beyond them.
And wandering amidst the tents? A young man, silver-gold hair showing above the close-held cloak, and two white shadows trail after him.
Jarwen emerges from one of the tents, the sound of laughter and the clatter of dice follow him out into the cool night air. He looks half a Dornishman dressed in the local style, though he pulls his cloak around him to keep of the night chill as he makes his way back towards the where he and the others of the hand’s men are encamped. Only to stop suddenly when faced with the Young Dragon and his Kingsguard. He bows deeply to his king, “Your grace.”
A gust of wind pulls at the white cloaks, making them snap and whirl like banners in the midst of battle. The king stops, and regards the man in the fitful firelight. There’s a new flash of white, of even teeth. “Ser Jarwen, is it?” King Daeron asks. “How do the dice roll?”
Jarwen straightens. “Yes your grace, Jarwen Hollard; and they roll sweetly your grace, if you’ve a mind to try a toss my companions and I would be honoured to have you join us,” he offered with a slight smile.
“Tempting, ser. Tempting,” the Young Dragon says to the man, as another gust of laughter and curses mingled together comes from the tent he had just left. A pause, as the handsome young king looks to the tent, and the process of warmth and camraderie here during a cool night in the Dornish desert. A pause ... and then a shake of his head. “Not tonight, Ser Jarwen. Too much to be done, before a few hours sleep and then on the march at dawn. There’s a well, I’ve been told, two leagues to the northeast, and I must see about having it secured ahead of the army’s arrival.”
Jarwen gives his king an understanding nod. “There will always be a place for you in our revels your Grace. Though this well, if you don’t have another man in mind for the duty, I’d be happy to undertake its security.”
The king considers the comely knight’s words, and now the glance he gives him—such as can be seen in the darkness, lit by the vaguest of moonlight and the flicker of flames—is thoughtful, weighing. “Come with me, ser, about my business. We’ll discuss it, you and I.” He motions, and one of the Kingsguard—the tall, lean Ser Olyvar Oakheart, the Green Oak—moves ahead to lead the way, while the other knight, Ser Osbert, takes his place behind in silence.
Jarwen says, “I’d be honoured your Grace,” Jarwen replies as he joins the king on his walk through the camp following a half-step behind.”
As the king walks through the camp, men occasionally offer their obesiance, and it slows the progress as Daeron pauses to offer his greetings, sometimes exchanging a word. But between these pauses, the Young Dragon discusses this matter of the well in the desert. “The Dornish have kept their distance, but how much longer they will do that is any man’s guess,” Daeron says at one point. “Some think they’ll try to use the great oasis that’s the source of the Scourge to anchor a flank, and so better defend themselves. Others, that they’ll try before that, here in the desert. Either way, I plan to be sure we have as much water as we can carry before we meet them.”
Jarwen nods “Your strategy seems sound your Grace, especially given how hard the Dornish fought to keep us from water at the Ford, I doubt they will let us have more than a drop as we march if they can help it,” he observers.
“My thinking as well,” Daeron replies. He turns past a corner, to a new row of tents. More men offer their greetings, but he takes it all in stride. When he speaks again, he says, “This well is the last near our route towards the Scourge. That the Dornish have placed watchers there, I am sure of that much. Whether they’ll challenge for control of the well, however…”
He falls into silence, a moment, and then adds with a kind of ruefulness, “And this assumes they haven’t simply fouled it as best they can. The maesters say if we take the time to boil the water, to burn out the foulness, it will make no great difference. But we hardly have time for that.” And then, after that, an easy shrug of his shoulders. “No matter. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Jarwen listens to his king’s words nodding. “Then it seems speed is of the essence then. It seems to me your Grace we should take the well at once and see to its purification if it needs it so as to reduce the delay in replenishing our supply.”
As the king and his uncle’s retainer walk through the camp, shadowed by the Kingsguard, it seems Daeron has been steering them towards the well-protected baggage area. “That does seem like my best course,” says Daeron. He gives Ser Jarwen a shrewd glance, as guards stationed about the supply area offer their salutes to the king. “How many men would you take, ser, for such a task? Enough to be swift about getting there, enough to drive any Dornish away and hold the well long enough for us to reach them in ... well,
Jarwen rubs his chin shifting uncomfortably under the King’s scrutiny. “Five hundred fighting men, and another fifty to gather and purify the water,” he says finally, hoping his luck is still with him.
Daeron stops at that, and frowns at Jarwen. “So many?” he asks, and it’s clear he’s incredulous. “You’ll hardly be able to travel much quicker with so many, ser.” He shakes his head, and it seems he’s on the verge of reconsidering something as he walks along. Beautiful as the Targaryens are beautiful, he may be, but he looks boyish as he chews at his lower lip in thought. Another look to Jarwen, the very image of a knight ... and again, he shrugs. “Well. Half that. If you cannot deal with whoever is there with that many, then you may as well come back, ser, and let me know. That will be noteworthy.”
Jarwen does his best to hide his shame at the young king’s reaction. “Yes your Grace I shall do as you say.”
A brisk nod from Daeron in response. “Yes,” he agrees, and then after a moment he adds, “You may lead the rest of my uncle’s men, who take part, and such knights as wish to join you. And see about gathering likely squires to help with the water.” Then turning to the tall knight from the Reach he says, “You’ll lead the rest of the men, Ser Olyvar, and your squire will carry the royal banner.” And just like that, the command shifts.
Turning back to Jarwen, the king says to him, “My thanks, ser, for your advice. I know you will do your utmost, with the Green Oak here.”
Jarwen’s eyes shift to the Green Oak and then back to the King as he bows. “Yes your Grace, I am certain you will be pleased with our results.”
“Then a good evening to you, ser,” the king says. “See about having your men ready before stealing an hour or two of sleep. You must be gone from here an hour before sunrise at the latest.” And with that, Daeron seems to dismiss Ser Jarwen, giving him a nod before disappearing in the direction of the grand pavillion at the center of the camp, surrounded by the baggage.